We are very fortunate here at the Diocese of Ontario to have an extensive collection of a diverse array of historic documents and artefacts. With everything ranging from Medieval manuscripts to historic local maps, church architectural drawings, and personal correspondence, we have so many resources to offer our Parishes and the public. This summer, we are gradually bringing these treasures out into the light for the use of our parishes, and ideally the public. To give you a sneak preview of some of the incredible items on our shelves, we will be showcasing just a few of these many treasures over the next few weeks.

The Boy Bishop and John Travers Lewis’ Mitre, circa 1862

To kick off the gradual opening of the Archives and celebrate our Diocese’s 160th anniversary, we are launching a museum-style curated exhibit here at the Diocese office, entitled The Boy Bishop. Using our collection of his books and personal effects, we explore the life and legacy of our first bishop, John Travers Lewis. Consecrated as bishop to a new and turbulent pioneering Diocese of Ontario at the grand age of 37, Lewis used his wide-ranging knowledge of Protestant theology and controversy, as well as his acumen for leadership, to govern his domain for nearly forty years. As Bishop and then Metropolitan and Archbishop, his life was spent dedicated to managing the English churches of Eastern Ontario. As Donald Schurman described, the degree of success that Lewis had in pursuing and largely achieving his goals for the Diocese made it “a byword of mission growth and success”.

Lewis' bishop’s mitre, that will be part of the collection, was worn by John Travers Lewis during ceremonies and services throughout his episcopate from 1862 until 1893, when he was pronounced Metropolitan and eventual Archbishop of Ontario. This rare and poignant artefact, along with many other incredible vestiges of the past, will be presented in the exhibit The Boy Bishop. They provide us insight into Lewis not only as a Bishop and religious figurehead, but as a son, a father, a husband, and a scholar.

Engraved Plates I-XCVI - "Description des plantes principales de l'Amerique Septentrionalle", taken from Histoire et description generale de la Nouvelle France; from the library of Sir James Stuart; 1744

As we are now in the depths of summer, we are truly struck by the diverse flora and fauna thriving in the warmth of the season. When North America was first being explored by European adventurers, missionaries, and settlers, the nature of the New World inspired awe with its unfamiliarity. While the indigenous peoples of the region had, over thousands of years, developed an extensive and intimate knowledge of the plant life surrounding them, those first encountering the area were observing a new and wild terrain. Jacques-Philippe Cornuti was a French botanist in the seventeenth century who wrote the first significant compendium on Canadian plants in 1635. His work was considered a premier authority on North American flora in the infancy of exploration throughout the New World. Later, in the eighteenth century, Swedish botanist and famed taxonomist Carl Linnaeus would build upon Cornuti’s records and his own observations to create more detailed and comprehensive record of American trees and undergrowth.

However, an often-understudied contribution to the history and development of botany in Canada was published in 1744 by Pierre-Francois-Xavier de Charlevoix, Jesuit missionary and historian. Remembered by the famed French writer Voltaire when Charlevoix was a “longwinded” prefect at the College-Louis-le-Grand in Paris, he was educated thoroughly in philosophy and theology before embarking on his teaching mission to North America. Tasked in 1719 by the French government to secretly find out about the existence of a sea between the New World and the Orient, he voyaged throughout what are now the Maritimes, Quebec, Ontario, Michigan, Missouri, Louisiana, Florida, and the Caribbean, whereafter he returned to France. The journals of this 1720-1723 voyage were published in full in 1744 and are considered some of the most seminal pieces of early North American literature.

We have an original copy of these published journals in our collection. I want to draw your attention to one of the lesser-known gems that Charlevoix included in his works – a record of North American flora, complete with extensive, elaborate, and rare engravings. Collectively, Charlevoix’s findings are more than double those recorded by Cornuti and outnumber in variety several of the listed species provided by Linnaeus in 1753. Presented before you are the engravings from this publication, 96 depictions in total, with the original descriptions for each one in this section of the journals. They are a vital part of eighteenth century Canadian and North American history and were integral to the botany in the New World. We are very fortunate to now house these documents in the Archives, originally part of the library of Sir James Stuart.